Senate Panel Votes to Approve Trump's Nominee for Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson / AP
January 23, 2017

A senate panel has narrowly voted in favor of the nomination of Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, paving the way for a full vote on his confirmation.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted 11-10 along party lines in favor of Tillerson, formerly CEO of oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil, to serve as secretary of state.  The vote was expected to be tight, as Republicans hold only a one-seat minority on the committee and some Republicans had voiced concerns about Tillerson.

Tillerson has faced scrutiny for his past dealings with Russia as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), who grilled Tillerson during his confirmation hearing on his opinions about Russia and Vladimir Putin, revealed Monday that he would vote in favor of Tillerson's nomination despite his reservations.

"In making my decision on his nomination, I must balance these concerns with his extensive experience and success in international commerce, and my belief that the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet," Rubio wrote Monday on Facebook.

"Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson's nomination in committee and in the full Senate," Rubio wrote.

During the confirmation hearing earlier in January, Tillerson underscored the need for the United States to be "clear eyed" about Russia. He also said that it was a "fair assumption" that Putin was behind cyber attacks aimed at the U.S. presidential election. However, he would not describe Putin as a "war criminal" when pressed by Rubio on Russian airstrikes that have targeted civilians in Syria.

Monday's committee vote paves the way for the full Senate to vote on Tillerson's nomination. The Senate has already voted to confirm Trump's picks for secretaries of defense and homeland security. Democrats have delayed votes on Trump's other Cabinet picks, citing potential conflicts of interest and other concerns.

On Sunday, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), both vocal critics of Russian aggression, expressed their support for Tillerson.